Wednesday, April 16, 2008

If Bill Finger was on LinkedIn: part 1

Of the books I've written, the one whose research has consumed me the most is the one about Bill Finger, the uncredited co-creator of Batman. He died in 1974 after living a colossally underdocumented life. That made digging for his past a tougher challenge, but it also meant that every discovery was much more likely to lead to a jig (or, if in the New York Public Library, a subtle fist pump).

In this series of posts, I will relay how I tracked down various people related to Bill by blood or Batman...or, as in the following case, neither.

First up: Charles Sinclair, Bill's longtime friend and writing partner for various television shows (including a two-part episode of the 1960s live action Batman show) and a couple of B-movies.

Because Charles did not collaborate with Bill on Batman comics, he was not someone I planned to look for going in. I came across his name while searching Bill's TV and movie credits on IMDB. While talking with artist and comics historian Jim Amash early in my research, we realized that contacting Charles could give great insight into Bill as a person.

That was, of course, if Charles (born 1924, ten years after Bill) were still alive. And findable. And willing to talk. And with mental faculties present.

When starting the hunt for a "Charles Sinclair," you know you're probably in for a staggering amount of possibilities and a punishing amount of dead ends. The name is on the common side. But that doesn't mean you don't start with a Google.

For hours, I searched.

I searched the Los Angeles phone directory for other (unusually named) people who worked on the shows Charles worked on. The few I found, I called. None remembered him. (Lots of people work on shows and many rarely if ever met each other.)

However, Googling the name in quotation marks had inadvertently blocked me from making progress. It didn't occur to me quickly enough that if I found out what his middle initial was, I'd narrow down thousands to, well, fewer than that, but probably still dozens, if not hundreds.

Finally, I ditched the quotation marks and searched his name with Bill Finger's. One of the results was a page on the Writers Guild East site that indicated people who were owed residuals but whom they could not locate.

One of them was Charles Sinclair. Only he was listed as "Charles [middle initial] Sinclair." The fact that he was listed with Bill confirmed that this was the Charles I was looking for.

So I scampered to People Finder and punched him up (with middle initial) in California, assuming he'd still be there.

Turns out he was never there.

I don't clearly remember this part, but somehow I began searching phone records for ALL Charles [middle initial] Sinclairs in the country. I don't remember how many hits that yielded, but I do remember that I was prepared to call them all.

On 6/15/06, the first one I tried happened to be on the east coast. Luckily, and a bit miraculously, that first one was him.

He was tremendously tickled that someone was doing a project on Bill, and more than happy to share as much as he could about his old friend. I was the first person
ever to contact him about Bill.

We talked for an hour and a half that day, and many more times since. He even kindly invited my wife and I to dinner, which he cooked himself. Charles was the first to tell me where Bill was buried
—only I found out later that Charles was (forgivably) wrong about that.

I told him the Writers Guild owed him (and Bill) some money. By the time Charles and I talked the next day, he'd already talked to them and was expecting a check. Funnily, the simple piece of info from the Writers Guild that facilitated me finding Charles apparently couldn't help the Writers Guild find him itself. That page was taken down literally the day Charles called. I asked my contact there why and he said for updates.

Bill's money has also since been claimed, but by whom is the "to be continued."

Charles opened me up to many other avenues for research. One of his ex-wives was one of the people who had a photo of Bill (from their 1964 wedding). Meeting this generous and articulate man was a highlight of my research
—not just for this book but all the books I've written. When I told Jim Amash, he interviewed Charles (respectfully, after asking for my blessing) for Alter Ego.

Charles celebrated his 84th birthday last week. I hope my Bill Finger book happens when Charles is still here to see his name on the dedication page.


Z Cole said...

I've always wanted to more about Bill Finger's work outside of comics; this was an interesting window to look through. For a time I though "Sinclair" was Finger's pen name!

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks Z Cole! Funny about the pen name!